Two marshals died and three men were injured when a rally car crashed into a crowd of spectators in north-west Ireland today.
The car leapt over a humped back bridge on the second stage of the Donegal International Rally before ploughing into the group, witnesses said.
The two dead men, thought to be in their 20s, died at the scene in the Cloghan area of the county between Ballybofey and Glenties.
Another man was taken to hospital where his condition was ‘‘serious’’ but not life threatening. Two others, thought to include the driver, suffered minor injuries and were admitted to hospital.
Event organiser Donegal Motor Club said the rest of the rally, which was due to run until Sunday, had been cancelled.
In a statement, it said: ‘‘Emergency services were immediately on the scene and the event was halted. Despite their very best efforts two people were fatally injured.’’
The club confirmed that the dead men had been marshalling the event, which was cancelled last year due to the foot-and-mouth outbreak.
Charlie Collins, of Donegal’s Highland Radio, said cars used the bridge near the crowd as a ‘‘high jump’’.
He said: ‘‘It is a pretty spectacular scene for people who are watching and the car would be travelling at high speed.
‘‘Spectators watching rallies like to be at points like this where they can see the cars with all four wheels off the road.
‘‘Ninety nine point nine per cent of the time the car passes safely by and there is a great deal of excitement but unfortunately on this occasion that didn’t happen.’’
He said there had been rain before the stage began, causing the teams concerns over which tyres to use.
‘‘The stage, we understand, was pretty slippery and with the speeds involved it only takes the slightest mistake and a tragedy like this can happen,’’ he said.
He added: ‘‘It has never happened in Donegal before so people here are in a big state of shock.
‘‘Spectators, competitors, motor club people and media people are shocked and in complete numbness after what has happened here.’’
Elite drivers, including former British champion Mark Higgins, were among 150 competitors at this year’s event.
After just two hours of racing, Andrew Nesbitt was leading the event in a Subaru.
The driver of the car involved in the accident was thought to be a well-known local competitor, although his name has not been released.
The names of the dead men were not available tonight, police said.
A spokeswoman for Letterkenny General Hospital, where the dead and injured were taken by ambulance, said: ‘‘I understand that the two men died at the scene and were dead on arrival at hospital.
‘‘One postmortem examination will be carried out tonight and the second tomorrow.
‘‘Three more men were admitted to hospital. One is in a serious condition and the other two have general, minor injuries. None of the three have life-threatening injuries.’’
She added that the injured men were aged in their 20s to 40s.
Donegal Motor Club added in its statement: ‘‘The organisers of the rally have expressed their deepest sympathy to the families of the dead.
‘‘The remainder of the Donegal International Rally has been cancelled by the organisers.’’
The club said rally sponsors Shell backed the decision to cancel the event.